[JPL] Claude Jeter, Gospel Singer With Wide Influence, Dies at 94

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Mon Jan 12 07:11:36 EST 2009


January 11, 2009

Claude Jeter, Gospel Singer With Wide Influence, Dies at 94

The Rev. Claude Jeter, the founder of the gospel group the Swan Silvertones
whose delicate yet potent falsetto had a wide influence on both pop and
religious singers in the 1950s and ¹60s, died on Tuesday in the Bronx. He
was 94.

His death was confirmed by his niece, Gwendolyn Davis, of Lillie, La.

A versatile stylist, Mr. Jeter once sang bass with the Dixie Hummingbirds.
But he is best known for his falsetto in the Swan Silvertones, which he
formed in 1938. Often acting as a foil for the group¹s rougher, shouting
voices ‹ which included those of Solomon Womack and Louis Johnson ‹ he sang
graceful and penetrating high melodies.

His fillips in songs like ³Careless Soul² and ³Saviour Pass Me Not² have
been echoed by many singers, most notably Al Green and Eddie Kendricks of
the Temptations. A line he sang in the Swan Silvertones¹ 1962 song ³Mary
Don¹t You Weep² ‹ ³I¹ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name²
‹ inspired Paul Simon to write ³Bridge Over Troubled Water.²

Claude Jeter was born on Oct. 26, 1914, in Montgomery, Ala. His father, a
lawyer, died when Claude was 8, and the family moved to Kentucky. He was
working in the nearby coal mines of West Virginia by his teens, and in 1938
he founded the Four Harmony Kings with his brother and two other miners. The
group changed its name to the Silvertone Singers, and after getting hired
for a radio show in Knoxville, Tenn., that was sponsored by the local Swan
Bakery, they became the Swan Silvertones.

The group recorded for the King, Specialty and Veejay labels, and though it
was widely influential it never made much money, according to Anthony
Heilbut, who wrote the 1971 book ³The Gospel Sound: Good News and Hard
Times² and produced Mr. Jeter¹s only solo album, ³Yesterday and Today,² in

He was ordained as a minister in the Church of Holiness Science in 1963, and
by the late 1960s he had left the Swan Silvertones. A longtime resident of
Harlem, he worked at the Hotel Cecil on 118th Street and occasionally
performed. He also sang on Mr. Simon¹s 1973 album ³There Goes Rhymin¹
Simon,² along with the Dixie Hummingbirds.

Other than his niece, no immediate family members survive him.

During the 1950s the Swan Silvertones added a guitarist and began to bend
toward R&B and rock styles, but Mr. Jeter refused to cross over to secular

³I had many offers to sing rock ¹n¹ roll, but I never did it,² he told The
New York Times in 1992. ³I promised my mother I would never sing nothing but
for the Lord. As far as lyrics are concerned, there¹s just as much truth in
the blues as there is in gospel. The difference? The blues doesn¹t move me
spiritually. The Devil, he¹s over there singing the blues, and I¹m over here
singing gospel. Even though he¹s got true words, I¹ve got true words too.²

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